Exclusive: Al Noaimi expects thrilling battle between Hamilton and Verstappen in Abu Dhabi

Saif Al Noaimi, CEO, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management. (Supplied photo)
Saif Al Noaimi, CEO, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management. (Supplied photo)

The CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management says the upgraded track will improve race experience



by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Thu 9 Dec 2021, 7:44 PM

Fans can look forward to an epic battle on the Yas Marina Circuit when bitter rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen lock horns for the world championship title in Sunday’s Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Coming into the F1’s only twilight race, Mercedes driver Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen are tied on 369.5 points at the top of the drivers’ standings – a scenario last witnessed in 1974.

“It’s a historic moment for us with the title decider coming down to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” Saif Al Noaimi, CEO, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, told Khaleej Times during an interview.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain arrives at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. (AP)
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain arrives at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. (AP)

“After 21 races, the two title leaders are coming to Abu Dhabi with exactly the same points. And that hasn’t happened in decades. It really comes down to who is going to cross the finish line ahead. And as we have seen in the last few races of this exciting season, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen know how to push each other to the limit. So, we can expect them to do that all the way to the finish line here in Abu Dhabi.”

Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi Motorsports upgraded the track for the first time since the circuit was first constructed in 2009. The restructuring took place in three key areas of the track – north hairpin, south marina and around the hotel section.

Al Noaimi is confident that the reconfigured track will further improve race experience.

“The changes we made over the summer period, the main objective was to create more opportunities for wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking. The new configuration will make it an exciting race,” he said.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen (centre) of the Netherlands arrives at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. (AP)
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen (centre) of the Netherlands arrives at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. (AP)

“We expect various fights to happen on the field. You not only have the drivers’ championship but also the constructors’ championship to be decided. Mercedes and Red Bull will be fighting for positions to maximise their points in order to secure the constructors’ championship. There are few other fights happening across different championships. We can’t wait for the action to start.”

Al Noaimi pointed out that teams’ understanding of the new track during Friday’s free practice sessions holds the key to success.

“Strategy will always play a factor and tyre choice is a factor in any race. What’s going to be interesting to see here is, obviously, with the new track and the new configuration, how the teams are prepared for the changes,” he said.

“The changes are drastic. So, it is not a matter of using data from the last grand prix and applying it in their strategy and the different permutations that they go through.”

During the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, while Hamilton won the race while moving from medium to hard tyres, Verstappen swapped from hard to medium.

Asked if tyre change will play a key role on the Abu Dhabi track, he said: “They really have to be smart at how they understand how the tyres wear out and how the tyres perform in the practice session. It is going to be interesting to see even the practice sessions how the teams gather data on the new configuration and how they apply that to their qualifying race strategies.”

Urged to make a prediction, Al Noaimi assured a thrilling motor racing spectacle for the fans. “I predict a very exciting race. The two title rivals will push each other all the way to the finish line.”


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